The question that’s asked most about Birch airfield is, why did it see such little flying activity? Constantly compared to other more active airfields in the area, Birch never had any flying units permanently based at the Station. At first sight this would appear a little strange, an airfield with no aircraft! There probably isn’t one single explanation for this. It could be that by the time it was completed, it was simply surplus to requirements. By the Autumn of 1944, the ‘invasion’ was now part of history and many airfields in East Anglia were left virtually unused. Their occupants having moved forward and set up base in Europe.
Many times during the research for this project, it emerged that there was a fault with the runways. Possibly they were not long or wide enough or maybe inferior quality materials were used, making them unsuitable for continued use by fully laden bomber aircraft.
Birch has been referred to as ‘the airfield that nobody wanted’. This would seem a bit harsh, but for whatever reason, it did have a part to play in the Second World War leaving its mark on the landscape and peoples memories alike. Like many of the airfields built, very little of Birch remains today. Of the hundreds of buildings that were constructed, only two are left. One of the few brick buildings that were constructed can still be seen from the Tiptree to Colchester road where it stands alone surrounded by countryside. The only evidence of a military occupation is a large Nissen hut close to Birch Holt Farm. This was a technical store, which would probably have contained quartermaster supplies that helped in the daily running of the station.
All three runways have been slimmed down from their original 50 yard width; two are nothing more than a single lane track. The third runway which roughly followed the path of the original Blind Lane (closed in 1943) was re-opened in the 1950’s as a public road. Today this is popular with learner drivers who are probably unaware of its former history. For a while, Birch was used as a private flying ‘strip’, with the occasional light aircraft making use of a grass runway that replaced the concrete and tar. The miles of hardcore that came from the runways, perimeter track and hard standings were used during the 1950/1960-motorway boom. It’s widely thought that Birch and several other local airfields now form part of the A12 road.
Why not take a fast drive along what was runway number three and imagine yourself as the pilot of a Dakota beginning a flight into the unknown. Or the navigator of a crippled ‘Fortress’ relieved to have made it back to safe ground. Even better, visit Birch Airfield on foot, that way you can really stretch your imagination. You might just hear…………………………